What the Cubs need to fix before they can compete for the World Series

Hopes are high in the Windy City that the Cubs can repeat their 2016 triumph and take the World Series in 2018. However, even the most optimistic fan must admit that the team has got off to a shaky start, to put it mildly. That’s not to say that getting through to the World Series is out of the question, but it’s little wonder that many are banking on a certain high profile transfer to make their dreams come true.

Erratic performances

The Cubs haven’t had a disastrous first quarter, but they’ve lacked consistency and several problems have become apparent. The focus has been on hitting home runs, and many have bemoaned Addison Russell’s lack of offensive power in that regard. However, the real problems are in the outfield and more particularly with the Cubs’ starting rotation.

Again, it’s not that the Cubs don’t have the talent; it’s that the talent isn’t consistently playing at the top of its game. Yu Darvish needs to recover the form that justifies his expensive price tag, while Jose Quintana also needs to find his groove again. If Russell can pull out of his slump, and the team as a whole can start playing to the best of its abilities, then we could have some serious World Series contenders on our hands, without the need for expensive buy-ins.

That’s not to say that fresh blood wouldn’t help the Cubs. Another issue is that the farm has been depleted by the trading of players like Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease. A grueling schedule is wearing down an excellent bullpen, with the same players being called up again and again. Anthony Rizzo and 37-year-old Ben Zobrist will be among those feeling the strain.

To trade or not to trade

So, the big question: Should the Cubs make a play for Manny Machado? There’s no doubt that the growing hysteria around Muchado as a potential savior for the Cubs is out of all proportion. That said, he’s clearly a player who would be a benefit to any team. The Cubs aren’t the only club eyeing up the 25-year-old, with the Nationals, the Dodgers and the Phillies all expressing an interest.

Many people have suggested that the Cubs trade an under-performing Addison Russell to the Orioles for Muchado, but Joe Maddon’s comments have suggested that he’s not keen on the idea. The 24-year-old shortstop wants to stay with the Cubs, and a quarter-season slump shouldn’t mean he’s all washed up. Russell is still a great asset to the team and will hit the form he’s capable of, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Other suggestions have included trading Ian Happ and keeping Ben Zobrist on second base, or letting the Cubs’ top pitching prospect, Adbert Alzolay go. Again, these are risky strategies, and one can’t help but wonder if the Cubs’ best chances lie in cultivating home-grown talent rather than relying on expensive free agents.         

Current odds

The Cubs current odds stand at around 8-1. That obviously doesn’t make them favorites for the World Series, but it doesn’t make them rank outsiders either. Live betting may see those odds improve as the season progresses without the need to bring in star names from outside. The bottom line is that the Cubs have a great core team. These are still the guys that won the World Series in 2016, and they can do it again.

The addition of another consistent bat to line up alongside Rizzo and Kris Bryant would certainly help. Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber are good but haven’t been quite as reliable this season as one might like. Bringing up Mike Montgomery and Drew Smyly, both lefties, to the pitching line-up should also improve matters, and Alzolay could arguably be a greater asset to the Cubs by pitching for them rather than as a potential trade.

Making the Fall Classic

It might seem glib to say that in order to stand a chance of competing in the World Series the Cubs just need to play better, but that really is the bottom line. Some canny trading decisions may strengthen the team, but that certainly doesn’t mean acquiring Manny Muchado at any cost. More attention to the starting rotation, better catching and a stronger offense will pull the Cubs out of their first-quarter slump and show us the world-beating team we know they can be.

This is still the team that won 292 games in their last three seasons, with three straight NLCS appearances and a World Series title under their belts. We all know they can do it, so it’s time the Cubs showed us exactly how.

    

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